This week Lyndon considers the power of sharing our reading experiences and how book clubs can add richness and deeper connections to the books we have engaged with.
We often think of reading and writing as solitary acts. These pastimes, we know, are the hobbies of the reclusive eccentric. As John Green states, writing is “a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don't want to make eye contact while telling it.”
Yet if that’s the case, why is it that some of the best moments I’ve experienced in reading have not been those when I have been alone in the experience? When I think of the core memories I associate with my love of books, of course there are winter nights wrapped in a blanket by the fire with a hot chocolate and a great six-hundred-page-doorstop, but conversely, I also think of the books that become a shared cultural moment as everyone discussed them, the ones I lined up for outside shops, or the ones with a great twist that sparked a series of text messages with someone who I knew would share the agony of a secret shock with me. The rise of #BookTok, I think, indicative of our desire for this sense of community around reading, and ultimately, I believe, the existence of the book itself relies on the idea that it is part of a conversation between at least two people: the writer and the reader. Reading may be done alone, but stories are always something we make together.
It is interesting to consider how and why readers converge. I had long dreamed of joining a book club by the time I was invited to one by my friend Georgie. Her group of friends, known as the “We Drink and We Know Things Literary Circle” meets at a local bar or restaurant every four weeks, where each of us emerges from hiding for a big hearty meal and an even heartier discussion. A book club, I have discovered, is about several things. It is about friendship. It is about civilised disagreement, seeking clarity, and answering questions of interpretation. It is about the accountability involved that ensures that each of us at least finds the time to read one book a month, and it is about occasionally having your heart broken when no-one loves a book quite as much as you do. Mostly, however, the guiding principle of a book club is the same as that of the English classroom: it is founded on the fundamental belief that when we work together to unpack a story we gain more from it.
At Launceston College this year, we decided to attempt to bring some sense of this culture to the school as an extension of what we had seen in the Shadow Judging process. We started three new clubs centred on a love of story: a Launceston College Film Club, Writers’ Club, and Book Club. For the last of these each month, the library orders six copies of an individual book selected by the group, and students have a month to read them while they are shared around. We meet in a lunch break, and across our reading we explore different genres and ideas, with the students challenging each other to consider the varied perspectives they each bring to a work. This year, perhaps, the hot favourite has been V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, but there have been wonderful and rich discussions for every text that we have engaged with. Whether the book is loved or hated (and usually it is both depending on who you talk to), there is always a lot to discuss. The only truly dangerous book is an average one.
|One of our school club members, Zina, had her sister Aria|
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I love being part of both my book clubs, and I feel sorry for anyone who does not have that experience as part of their lives. The good news is that wherever there are readers, there is hope. Everyone, no matter their age, should be able to share the experience of reading.
So… if you aren’t already part of a book club…
Why not start one?
Lyndon is a writer, teacher, and Co-President of the Tamar Valley Writers’ Festival. He can be found @lyndonriggall and at www.lyndonriggall.com